It was a daunting task for Rapid City artist James Van Nuys. He wants every piece of his art to be special, of course. But this one had to be something even more.
After all, it was meant to memorialize officers Nick Armstrong and Ryan McCandless. The two Rapid City police officers suffered fatal gunshot wounds on Aug. 2, 2011 when Daniel Tiger, 22, a subject they were checking in North Rapid, suddenly pulled a gun and opened fire.
Tiger suffered fatal wounds in the shootout. Officer Tim Doyle was seriously wounded but survived and returned to the force. Doyle was at the dedication Friday in Founders Park near Rapid Creek, where he and Van Nuys met with the families of the slain officers near the piece of art produced with their funding and their guidance.
“When you’re entrusted with a monument like this, an artist feels that anything less than the absolute best they can do is not going to be good enough,” Van Nuys said. “And we worry. You’ve got to put that thing up and it has to be beautiful and as powerful as you can make it, so that it will reflect what these officers gave to our community.”
What they gave was everything. And Van Nuys said his time working on the memorial sculpture made him appreciate more deeply not just the ultimate sacrifice of Armstrong and McCandless but also the sacrifices of the families of officers – including those still working to keep the peace.
“I think I’ve always had an appreciation for what the police do. Being a downtown business person I’ve seen them dealing with difficult situations over the last seven years that I’ve been there, and difficult people, and doing their best to treat everyone with respect,” Van Nuys said. “I really appreciate what the police department does. I think I probably never had as full an understanding of what the families of police officers go through, not just in situations like this but everyday having their sons and husbands and brothers out there on the street. Working with the families of these officers, I have much more of a feel and appreciation for what this people do for us.”
Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris said the sculpture will be a meaningful community landmark for many years to come.
"It means that Nick and Ryan's sacrifice will never be forgotten. This sculpture will be here for generations to come," Jegeris said. “My hope and my belief is that it will inspire other generations in the future toward public service, whether that’s in law enforcement or other areas.”
Jegeris said Van Nuys did “an amazing” job of turning the memorial vision of the families into a physical tribute to the officers.
“It was clear that he was working from the heart and had a share vision,” Jegeris said. “And that’s proven here today. It was just a great honor to see both families arrive earlier this week to see the sculpture for the first time and to see that what they had as their vision was actually a tangible piece of art that will be here for years to come.”
The two bronze eagles created by Van Nuys soaring on stainless-steel shafts made by Sturgis artist Dale Lamphere will be hard miss or forget.
And now that special piece of art will become a place near the heart of Rapid City where the spirit of two officers can soar, and the people they served can come to remember.